An un­pre­ten­tious master builder

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY


Di­rected by Mark Noo­nan, Fea­tur­ing Kevin Roche, Cert PG, lim­ited re­lease, 82mins It would be im­pos­si­ble to con­tem­plate post-war ar­chi­tec­ture with­out ref­er­enc­ing Kevin Roche. Aged 95, the Dublin­born, Mitchel­stown-raised, so-called star­chi­tect has made a huge im­pact in his field with ap­po­sitely huge projects.

Hav­ing presided over the build­ing of sky­scrapers, mu­se­ums and cor­po­rate cam­puses for more than six decades, Roche fi­nally takes cen­tre-stage in this el­e­gantly con­structed doc­u­men­tary from Mark Noo­nan, a for­mer ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent who made his fea­ture film de­but in 2014 with You’re Ugly, Too. The Quiet Ar­chi­tect teases out Roche’s var­i­ous con­tra­dic­tions to fas­ci­nat­ing ef­fect. Hav­ing landed in the US in 1949, he re­tains a dis­cernible brogue. By ed­u­ca­tion, he ought to be a mod­ernist, hav­ing as­sisted Michael Scott on Busáras and Don­ny­brook Bus Garage, be­fore head­ing to Lon­don to work for Maxwell Fry, and from there Chicago, to study un­der boxy min­i­mal­ist Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe.

In 1950, Roche joined the firm of Fin­nish fu­tur­ist Eero Saari­nen, where he met his wife (of more than 60 years and count­ing) Jane. He proved a ver­sa­tile tal­ent, and a diplo­matic one, too. When Saari­nen died sud­denly in 1961, Roche and his col­league John Dinkeloo were con­fi­dent enough to take over sev­eral of their late boss’s grander un­fin­ished projects.

As a lead ar­chi­tect, Roche’s own brand of mod­ernism was rather lighter and greener than his block-on-block fore­bear­ers. His ter­raced gar­den walls around the Oakland Univer­sity Mu­seum drew the pub­lic to­ward “the first build­ing in Western ar­chi­tec­ture that’s a re­ally great build­ing”, as one of the film’s sim­i­larly em­ployed talk­ing heads has it.

For decades, Roche has been the go-to guy for multi­na­tional head­quar­ters, hav­ing built cam­puses for San­tander, Ford and John Deere, among oth­ers. (His sole Ir­ish work is Dublin’s hotly con­tested Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.) Still, as he and many oth­ers in­sist, he’s a prob­lem­solver, not a mon­u­ment builder.

Kate McCul­lough, one of our finest cin­e­matog­ra­phers savours each Roche build like a som­me­lier with a rar­i­fied Château Mar­gaux. For all his world-build­ing, the unas­sum­ing Roche still (partly) chimes with the un­pre­ten­tious folks he grew up with: “An ar­chi­tect? Sure what he be do­ing?”

Prob­lem-solver: Kevin Roche

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